Homeowners rarely think about water quality unless there’s a problem they can see or taste. However, most of the real concerns with water quality are undetectable to the casual observer. Water that hasn’t been treated properly – or hasn’t been treated at all – will contain pollutants or carry an incorrect chemical imbalance that could be seriously detrimental to the health of anyone who comes in contact with it. These health threats include gastrointestinal illness, reproductive problems, and neurological disorders.
It’s also important to remember that water quality has two parts: Inside your home and outside it. Low-quality water can damage your pipes, water fixtures, appliances and heating systems. Here’s how water quality is determined and what you can do to address any concerns inside your home.
What is Water Quality?
Put simply, water quality is how pure your water is; the cleaner it is, the higher quality it has. However, in its natural state, water is never just H2O; it absorbs all kinds of minerals, microbes, pollutants, gases, even dust and other particulates.
Most U.S. households get their water from companies that draw the water from nearby sources such as lakes, rivers or groundwater. This water has to be extensively filtered, or treated, before the clean water can be piped into your home. All water companies are responsible for the purity of the water they deliver and are required to meet government-established safety standards.
Roughly 15 percent of Americans get their water from wells that are either privately owned or shared through a co-op of households. These private wells are not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); the owners are responsible for keeping their water clean and safe. The National Ground Water Association recommends well owners test their water at least once a year. For more information, see the CDC’s Private Wells page.
There are many possible sources of water contamination, including:
- Naturally occurring chemicals and minerals such as arsenic, radon and uranium
- Sewage releases that can harbor microorganisms like E. coli
- Chemicals used in agriculture such as fertilizers and pesticides
- Manufacturing processes that release pollutants such as heavy metals and cyanide
Some water problems are recognizable by taste, sight or smell, such as:
- Hard water, which is high in dissolved minerals like calcium and magnesium. It’s not a health risk but it does leave a chalky buildup over time that can damage your plumbing and appliances and reduce water pressure. If you have hard water in your home, see below about water softeners.
- An “off” flavor that indicates the water pH is outside the EPA-recommended range of 6.5 and 8.5 (7 is considered pure). Water with an acidic tang may indicate the presence of too many metals; bitter water often indicates the presence of too many minerals. If the water coming into your home always tastes “off,” see below.
- A foul taste or smell in your water can indicate decaying organic matter inside your plumbing system or problems with your water heater. Call a licensed plumber immediately to avoid health issues and resolve the problem.
Securing the Water System
The United States has one of the safest water supplies in the world. Water quality must meet EPA regulations, and community water systems must also follow the rules set forth by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), which include guidelines for drinking water quality, water testing schedules, and water testing methods. The EPA’s standards and regulations cover the presence and levels of over 90 contaminants in public drinking water, including E.coli, Salmonella, Cryptosporidium, metals such as lead, and disinfection byproducts. Many states also enforce their own water standards that are at least as protective as EPA standards; in Texas, the relevant agency is the Commission on Environmental Quality.
However, the quality of water treatment across different water districts may vary greatly. Every community water supplier must provide an annual report, sometimes called a Consumer Confidence Report, or “CCR,” to its customers, providing information on all contaminants that may be present in your water and alerting you to the health risks of these contaminants. You should be able to find recent reports on your water supplier’s website.
Improving Home Water Quality
There are a few basic, ongoing actions you can take to preserve the quality of the water in and around your home:
- Maintain and/or update your home plumbing system. This is particularly important if your home is 30 years old or older or has metal plumbing that hasn’t been upgraded; the solder in your pipes probably contains lead. An annual plumbing inspection like ours is always a smart preventive measure.
- Use earth-friendly soaps and cleaners; be particularly careful to avoid any product with triclosan listed in the ingredients.
- Use eco-friendly lawn treatments and pesticides.
- Don’t flush your expired medical prescriptions; instead, ask your local pharmacy to safely dispose of them.
- Don’t dump chemicals, oils or anything else down storm drains, which are designed to handle rainwater exclusively.
Finally, invest in your choice of the in-home water treatment options designed to address any water concern. These include:
- Water filtration systems: For instance, a reverse osmosis (RO) filtration system can get you much closer to cleaner, safer drinking water. This system mitigates the effects of both chloramine and chlorine, two of the cleaning agents currently in use by North Texas water districts.
- Water softening systems: These add extra sodium to your water, which counteracts water hardness, raises low pH, and balances your water.
- Acid neutralizing systems: However, if your water’s pH is too high, consider an acid neutralizer to get the pH to a safe level.
The Water Quality Professionals
You’ve probably noticed that threats to the quality of your water are heavily dependent on your location. However, no matter where you are in North Texas, purifying your drinking water doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive or difficult. Horizon Plumbing’s water quality specialists are available to answer your questions and are committed to helping you supply clean, safe, and great tasting water to your household. Contact us to learn more about your in-home water treatment options.